Why the redistricting rush?

Board majority’s thwarting of public participation in redistricting is shameful

Redistricting is one of the most important things county boards of supervisors do. It determines how the county will be divided for voting and representation purposes for a full 10 years. It should be done as openly and involve as much public participation as possible.

Because the supervisors ultimately decide on the redistricting plan, they are in a position to draw the lines in a way that favors their re-election. Involving the public in the process fosters trust on the part of the citizenry that the lines are fairly and objectively drawn.

As occurred in 2001, when the Board of Supervisors approved a last-minute plan devised in secret by Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi that effectively split up the two Chico-area districts in an effort to weaken the political positions of Supervisors Jane Dolan and Mary Anne Houx, this year the board is poised to approve a redistricting plan drawn primarily by Supervisor Larry Wahl that carves up his District 2—and divides a historic Chico neighborhood—in a way that improves his re-election chances.

The most shameful aspect of this is that, at the Tuesday (July 12) board meeting, a three-member majority of the supervisors, Wahl, Yamaguchi and Bill Connelly, voted not to allow further public participation in the redistricting process, even though a final map isn’t due until Nov. 1, more than three months from now.

That decision came despite the fact that, prior to the meeting, only four people had participated in the process. Also, at that meeting, for the first time, dozens of people showed up asking to be allowed to participate in the next few weeks. Rather than support this wish to get involved, the board majority said, in essence, that it had heard enough and approved the plan Wahl had designed. (See our story in Newslines, page 9.)

The redistricting process has been a disaster. It was poorly noticed, as many people told the supervisors Tuesday. That’s why only four people had participated in the three public hearings to that point. And Option 4, the Wahl plan, was presented to the supervisors right before the prior hearing, on June 14, so nobody else had a chance to look at it. Even though it was not listed on the county website’s redistricting hearing schedule for that date, the board went ahead and discussed it.

Option 4 is currently listed—and has been listed all along—on the schedule for the July 12 meeting, but it was not studied at that meeting and was approved largely without discussion among the supervisors. What’s going on here? The whole thing stinks.

Besides, why the rush? As board Chairman Steve Lambert said, there was no urgency to speed through the process. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Supervisors Wahl, Yamaguchi and Connelly were more interested in drawing the map to their liking than they were to ensuring that democracy prevailed and the citizens trusted the process.